In which I learn to SCUBA dive

Posted on November 22nd, 2013, by Mario Saenz

Lisa and I diving in the St. Lawrence River in October 2013

Lisa and I diving in the St. Lawrence River

I took the GUE Recreational 1 class with Bob Sherwood in Upstate New York in June 2013. Recreational 1 is the most basic level of Global Underwater Explorers’ certification process, the equivalent of other agencies’ open water certification. Most people begin with Fundamentals because they have some diving experience and Fundamentals serves in funneling divers to the appropriate levels in GUE’s system.

I had never dived before and had not been interested. However, my wife, who has dived for several years persuaded me to try. Since she had already done some training with Bob, and she liked GUE’s methods and philosophy, she suggested I should begin with GUE. An excellent recommendation.

I began my classes with Bob in a pool: becoming comfortable in the water, learning neutral buoyancy and trim, and practicing five basic tasks: taking the reg out of my mouth and putting it back in, exchanging the long house reg for the necklace and back to the long hose, modified S-Drill, remove water from the mask, remove mask and put it back on. Also, I swam in the pool using a very basic propulsion method.

As soon as I was in the water, I was asked by Bob to try to assume a horizontal position so that I am flat from chest to knees, arms up, head up facing forward, lower legs up and feet flat. Thus, from the beginning, all skills were to be practiced while becoming comfortable in horizontal trim. That is, I was not supposed to do any of the tasks in any but a trim position and in neutral buoyancy. It was not easy, particularly since, as I was to learn in open water, I had to also be situationally aware at all times, aware of my buddy and in close proximity to her.

We spent a lot of time also in the classroom, learning about safe diving, neutral buoyancy, gear configuration and weighting, the buddy system, the physics of diving and the water environment (Boyle’s Law, Archimedes principle, diffraction, etc.).

For all of my lessons I used a 7 mm wet suit, thin gloves that made it easier for me to clip and unclip the long hose and the SPG, a backplate and wing, and an aluminum 80 tank.

Off to the real water! After a few lessons in the pool and several hours of lectures, I met Bob in Clayton for a dip in the St. Lawrence. I was to do a giant stride from a divers’ dock. I had never done a giant stride in my life. I hesitated as the wooden dock swayed a little with the waves (for me a lot!). Bob encouraged me to stride in, especially as a large boat had just passed by and the waves produced by its wake were about to get bigger. The thought of quitting crossed my mind. The area was crowded with people and their families attending a ground breaking event for a hotel construction next to the dock. The children at the event began to crowd around us fascinated by two persons in dive gear. I was not about to refuse to go in with a bunch of young kids watching. So I “strode” (more leapt) into the water.

More lessons in open water followed in both Clayton and Alexandria Bay, both by the St. Lawrence River. In all of the lessons, except for the pool lessons and the first open water lesson, I had a buddy also taking Rec 1. Bob worked on my rig, especially the weight necessary to let me descend and ascend comfortably and safely.

It was not easy to keep neutrally buoyant and be within the trim degree limit of 30 degrees from horizontal. The effort I made descending and then trying to stay still at depth, as well as anxious concentration trying to fight my 57-year-old body to perform according to my thirty-something will, made me breathe very fast so that my SAC was horrendously high. Also, much of the time I looked like a seahorse, especially an upside down seahorse. Bob made sure I did not stay in the seahorse position. I am surprised he did not make a hole in his tank with all the clanging trying to have us pay attention. On the other hand, I would get a very good view of the Caspian gobies and the zebra mussels that carpeted the logs and rocks of the river… when I was not silting the muck up with my arms or my fins.

After many lessons with Bob, I went several times to a pool to practice with all my gear, neutral buoyancy, trim, and the safety drill. I was confident that I could do the tasks once I got trim and buoyancy under control… And it clicked! My next step was to practice SMB deployment. A night before I was to meet Bob again at the river, I got in front of my computer, and watched GUE divers in (for example, SMB Deployment – YouTube) repeatedly as I would try to mirror their SMB deployments.

This last day on the river I was cautiously optimistic that I could meet GUE standards: Within 30 degrees of horizontal and within target while doing the various tasks, including an S-Drill. I went with Lisa to the river. I didn’t know that this was going to be my evaluation dive, but I felt confident I could do all the tasks.

Lisa and I dove as buddies this time, while Bob followed us closely and recorded significant portions of the dive. (Video recording and pictures are a significant part of the lessons.) We did the S-drill proficiently and, somehow, I did the SMB deployment reasonably well for the first time under water. I was very happy with the dive. When we ascended I noticed that Bob looked excited. I wondered whether I had a bass on my head, or what. Actually, Bob loved the dive!

After this, all I had to do was a 30 plus page take home written exam–over 130 questions! It took a long time to complete but it was an excellent learning experience because I was able to review many of the concepts and theories related to diving that we studied in class. I mentioned a few already; others had to do with calculation of minimum gas, calculation of bottom time in subsequent dives, and human physiology in relation to the bends and other medical emergencies.

It was a difficult class. But, I tell you, it was one of the most significant things I have done in a long time. It was not guaranteed that I would pass, but I knew I was learning to dive safely and with a solid foundation of good and proficient muscle memories. Besides, I liked the elegance of the horizontal trim and the grace of combining it with neutral buoyancy.

My wife and I have been diving regularly since, improving on our skills, doing S-drills in almost every dive at the beginning of the dive, working on the propulsion methods and the back kick (which seems to require very good trim), and just enjoying what the dive has to offer.

I should end by stressing two important elements of what I learned in my class: Diving should be fun; don’t burden yourself with extra tasks or extra gear. Diving should be safe; the best way of making it safe is to make the effort to have buddies who share your concern with safety, plan for themselves and their buddies as well, communicate clearly with you regarding the goals and limits of the dive, and stick to those goals and limits during the dive.

Addressing the Occupy Movement

Posted on November 3rd, 2011, by Mario Saenz

Below is the full text of an address I gave to the students at LeMoyne College on the occasion of their Occupy LeMoyne action.

The capitalist model existing today in the U.S., neo-corporatism or neo-corporativism,  is often associated with the political successes of the Reagan Administration and the form they assumed throughout the world with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.[i] Today, the model is in crisis. That model is characterized ideally by 1. The rule of private enterprise freed from “any bonds imposed by the government”; this implies the “reduction of government regulation on any economic activity that could reduce profits,” including, for example, environmental safety; 2. The diminution and in some cases the destruction of social welfare, including government financed education, healthcare and retirement pensions, 3. The privatization or “sale of state enterprises and services to private investors”: Banks, water, electricity, disaster relief, for instance; 4. A possessive individualism that undermines community and places the responsibility of health care, education, and chronic unemployment on individuals, an onerous responsibility especially for the poor;[ii] 5. Militarism, including the uncritical support by the media of any and all military adventures in the name of freedom and against terror, barely disguising the colonial and neocolonial interest in profit in those adventures, as well as the national security organization of the population at home and abroad; 6.  ultra-nationalism and in some cases xenophobic hatred of others (whether Muslim, Hispanic, Black or Arab) to disguise the increasingly sharp contradictions in the system; and 7. Cultural, social, and political pressure to pledge allegiance to the corporations and their power.

As the crisis becomes more acute, we are witnesses to a profound social and political contradiction. More than being witnesses, however, we must witness in solidarity the 29 million unemployed, the 50 million uninsured, the poverty and the hopelessness of many who find themselves unrepresented and unable to make ends meet.

The development in inequality is striking: While the income share of the top 10% of the population in the U.S. was about 30 % in 1970, by 2006 it had reached about 50 % or the levels of the late 1920s. Similarly, the income share of the top 1/% has shot back up to the late 1920s level (24 % of the total income) back up from 7 % in the 1970s.[iii]

In comparative terms, the numbers mentioned refer to a profound inequality during the 1920s, the amelioration of inequality after the Great Depression, and the rise of inequality in the late seventies/early eighties up to the peak year of 2006. Thus, in terms of the pay of the top 100 CEOs by average wage, the ratio was 39, that is, their pay was 39 times higher than the average annual wage; in 1999 the ratio was 1043.[iv]

We witness then  the profound contradiction between, on the one hand, a model in crisis that becomes less representative and more beholden to big money as the crisis deepens, and, on the other hand, social movements, such as the Occupy movements that structure themselves as deeply democratic: 1. In terms of a critique of excessive wealth at a time of extreme want, 2. As a critique of the lack of representation regarding economic and political decisions made without transparency or by officers of transnational organizations neither elected nor representative of citizens (not simply of this nation but also others), and 3. As a call to strengthen representative democratic institutions with institutions of participatory democracy: Not only in the street but also in the school, the business, and the factory.

A crisis such as the one we are living through develops fissures in the accepted model of thinking, that is, in the common sense values of a society. It is in these suddenly open spaces that a new model may become the new common sense, a new consensus; this is what the Italian political theorist and activist, Antonio Gramsci, called “war of positions”[v]—a contestation of the meaning of democracy: Should we accept as the meaning of democracy the election of folks pressured down on the general population by the elites? Should we accept as the fundamental meaning of human motivation possessive individualism, cut-throat competition, and the privatization of the goods and services produced by social labor?

With the collapse of communism another world became possible; at the time, during its collapse, the hegemonic model of neocorporatism to which I referred at the beginning was portrayed, again in the street, the school, the business, and the factory, as the only model possible, the destruction of social welfare as rational. The crisis of the model opens up the possibility, only a possibility… but a real one, to move beyond not only bureaucratic collectivism but also the savage capitalism that finds profit in every disaster, war, and personal crisis. The new model would be one of solidarity, democracy, and redistribution of wealth on the basis of democratic choice based on the participation of all citizens, including citizen-workers.

[i] See Paul Krugman’s account of the causes and effects of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009), 11.

[ii] I derive the first four points from Elizabeth Martínez and Arnoldo García, “What is Neoliberalism: A Brief Definition for Activists,” (Accessed on 10/18/2011).  I do not use the term neoliberalism because of the conceptual confusion with economic liberalism and political liberalism. Economic neoliberalism might seem more adequate to some. However, the strong connection between economic neoliberalism, and the conservative political and cultural imposition of corporate order leads me to think that corporativism or corporatism is a more appropriate term. It is a new corporativism that should therefore be called neocorporatism.

[iii] Deepankar Basu, Sanhati, “What is Neoliberalism Practically? A Picture of Finance Capital or the Income Pyramid Under Capitalism, in Sanhati: Fighting Neoliberalism in Bengal, (accessed on 10/18/2011.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1971), 239.

The Image of The Muslim and The Reality of White Neo-Fascism

Posted on November 9th, 2009, by Mario Saenz

The violent attack by a Muslim officer at Ft. Hood is a tragedy in an increasingly militarized state now magnified by anti-Muslim fanaticism. The call by the ultra-conservative “fringe” (now comfortably navigating, however, in the mid-stream of the Republican Party) to expel and ban all Muslims from the U.S. military is simply another step in what is by now the firmly established foreign and domestic “Orientalist” policy of the U.S. government.

The orientalist construction of the non-Western “Other” and the reciprocal construction of the West as the normative standard have a long imperial history. Edward Said’s analysis is still applicable. What is new is the troubling similarity to early 20th Century attacks on Jews throughout much of Europe.

The Muslim of the early 21st Century is becoming the Jew of 100 years ago. The attacks against Muslims take place in the context of militarism, nativism, corporativism, and the mainstreaming of an ultra-rightwing populism that brings together tea-baggers, white supremacists, and neo-Know Nothings like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Drudge, and Rush Limbaugh, with all sorts of opportunists within the political establishment. The mass element of the new right may express resentment towards a multicultural society; it also expresses the will of authoritarians without authority, totalitarians without totality, for a central authority that lashes out against all threats to their fascist aspirations, leashes in all resistance and brings the country back to the mythical unity of the past.

Militarism, nativism, hatred of foreigners, and the corporativist vertical alliance between big capital, and sectors of the middle class: These are together elements of fascist terror for which only one component seems to be lacking: political control of the machinery of government.

The Free Press–Capitalist Style

Posted on July 8th, 2009, by Mario Saenz

post-29-12469854053_pOn Sunday, July 5, President Mel Zelaya attempted to fly back to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, after he was overthrown by proto-fascist forces and forcefully flown out of the country the week before. The army had blocked the tarmac with cars and trucks, making it impossible for President Zelaya to land. Army snipers, posted on the terraces of airport buildings, began shooting at the large crowd of pro-democracy demonstrators who were assembled at the airport to receive their president. Several people were killed and injured by the gunfire.

La Prensa, one of the pro-coup newspapers in Honduras (and only pro-coup papers are allowed to operate), was forced to report on the demonstration because of its magnitude. However, with Reaganesque and Stalinist flair it distorted the facts on the ground. Not only did it fail to report that the demonstration was peaceful; it also retouched pictures of killed demonstrators to show, I suppose, that Army bullets are peaceful. La Prensa’s own sanitized version of the picture at the top of this entry follows below.


Why are media in this country so circumspect about the brutal repression of pro-democracy demonstrators in Honduras? The obscene infotainment coverage of Michael Jackson’s death is simply an excuse not to think about the world when the oppressor is on the side of U.S. imperialist interests. If Neda had been Honduran, her blood would have been sanitized out of existence, and the U.S. media would have been as indifferent as it is in the case of Honduras and it would have implied with barely perceptible coverage, as it does in the case of Isis Obed Murillo, “Who cares, Screw her!”

Pro-Democracy Demonstrations, Capitalist Style

Posted on July 7th, 2009, by Mario Saenz reports that Honduran capitalist corporations and the military dictatorship are forcing workers to don a white shirt to march in a demonstration in favor of the coup.

Also, the inhabitants of poor neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa are denouncing that the government is paying people the equivalent of US$ 5.00 plus a white shirt to march in the demonstration.

This is what people who believe in capitalism believe in when they are the power: 5 dollars = 1 vote and, if you don’t agree, we fire you … or at you.

Honduras Matters

Posted on July 5th, 2009, by Mario Saenz

Central America has suffered some of the worst abuses of imperialist arrogance and brutality. Its economy was distorted to satisfy the interests of redneck colonialism, and every attempt at attaining a political breathing space to develop normal economic policies has been met by U.S. invasions, proxy armies, bombings, mercenaries, overthrows, and genocides. Hundreds of thousands have died to satisfy the thirst for profit of corporations from United Fruit Company to Coca Cola.

In the past few years, important changes had been taking place in Central America. Popular movements that had been severely repressed in the past began to organize again. On the wave of those movements, reformers came to power and began to take steps, in some cases timid steps such as Alvaro Colom’s UNE Party in Guatemala, to redistribute wealth and even to give voice to the population’s radical thirst for democratic participation in the cultural, political, and economic life of their nations.

The election of Mel Zelaya to the presidency of Honduras almost four years ago was expressive of this thirst for democracy. Zelaya’s social democratic credentials were clear in his public pronouncements for the redistribution of wealth both as a matter of political and ethical responsibility, and to stimulate economic demand. This led to a violent reaction by the most entrenched powers in Honduras: The wealthy, the media, and the Church, often intimately connected, often the same mysterious trinity-in-one, and their military agents.

The immediate cause for the overthrow of Zelaya was a referendum that he called for and which represented a threat to the traditional mechanisms of legitimacy for the civil-secular sectors of the oligarchy. The Church and the Army, that is, the violence of the cross and the peace of the grave, had become parasitical on neoliberal legitimacy. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, however, the de facto government has made use of chauvinist fear-mongering against neighboring countries to legitimate violence against the anti-coup popular movement. (Chauvinism has always been a useful parasite for the ruling classes. Mercenaries feed on chauvinism: from the death squad member in Central America to the Lockheed employee, their motivation has always been an obsessive disgust for the foreigner at home or abroad. A salary makes their obsession digestible. The obsession gives the wages-for-killing a good conscience.)

The referendum was not binding, a fact that has conveniently escaped the notice of the news networks of the empire. If a majority of people had voted for it, then a binding referendum could have taken place in December of this year, the day of Presidential elections when Zelaya could not and would not be a candidate. The constitution of Honduras, not 30 years old, does allow for referenda, and what Zelaya was doing was not prohibited by law. It is important to be aware that Zelaya’s referendum was not for his reelection (although the same ones who misinform the global public about this were conveniently silent when the narcotics paramilitary president of Colombia changed the Constitution so that he could get re-elected). The referendum was to express a nonbinding desire for a Constituent Assembly. A Constituent Assembly in the future could have allowed for re-election of a president, for instance, or it could have created other forms of legislative power. The formation of a constituent assembly is permitted by the Honduran Constitution. If it did not, then we would have an awfully bad Constitution.

This bears repeating: Zelaya is ideologically a social democrat, nothing dangerous, except for those who cannot stand any distribution of wealth, especially in a country with 70 % of the people living in poverty or extreme poverty. The removal of Zelaya was a military coup, which even the lawyer for the armed forces of Honduras recognized as such in a recent interview for the Miami Herald. It is paradoxical that people who claim to believe in the rule of law violate it so blatantly.

Should people in Honduras accept the coup because it took place? Not more so than we would tolerate a crime because it took place in the past. Furthermore, this coup undermines the possibility of democratization in Honduras while it imprisons and kills those who call for a return to democracy in the streets and the airwaves. All radio stations, all newspapers, all TV stations that reported the presence of pro-democracy forces in the streets, that interviewed people in opposition to the coup, or that criticized the coup have been closed. The so-called free press of the Americas, including that of the U.S., have barely registered their concern about the silencing of any media that do not toe the dictatorship’s line.

Another real danger about the coup is that Latin American fascists will perceive it as carte blanche for future coups if this one succeeds in Honduras: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala have all experienced the brutality of military dictatorships that have suppressed popular movements. Honduras, a country of seven million, serves as a laboratory for proto-fascist forces, immediately so in Central America, during the current crisis of neoliberalism.

On the Failure of the Left and the Rise of the Theocracy in Iran

Posted on June 27th, 2009, by Mario Saenz

The linked book review is useful for understanding the failure of the left in Iran

Lecturas venenosas

Posted on June 22nd, 2009, by Mario Saenz

This blog entry is also posted at Rebelion

Guillermo Almeyra (“Irán y la prensa venenosa”) acusa al Tudeh de haber combatido contra Irán en la guerra entre Irán e Irak. Fueron los muyajedín que por una serie de factores internos a la lucha de clases y el oportunismo político después del 79 se fueron a Irak donde estaban aún cuando eeuu invadió Irak.

El Partido Tudeh se opuso a la continuación de la guerra después que Irán había recuperado los territorios invadidos por Irak. (Farhang Rajaee, The USSR and Iran-Iraq War). Sus directivas fueron ejecutados o puestos en prisión. ¿Quién era primer ministro en ese entonces? Mousavi.

¿Qué hizo Mousavi? Cuando fue Primer Ministro (1981-1989) mató comunistas por doquier: militantes  socialistas laicos incluyendo como dije gran parte del liderazgo del Tudeh y la persecución o muerte de 10.000 militantes. No que el Tudeh sea inocente: colaboró con los islamistas para destruir los shoras (brotes embrionarios de lo que en Venezuela han sido misiones y lo que Gramsci llamó comisiones internas. Algunos jugaron un papel similar a los soviets.) También ordenó Mousavi (bueno, él y los ayatolas) la destruccion de los fedayines socialistas, el asesinato de todos los representates de partidos religiosos de izquierda en el parlamento y la persecución de sus seguidores. Mujeres y feministas fueron reprimidas perseguidas y asesinadas: algunas con leyes que las marginaban de las carreras “para hombres” (ingeniería civil y agricultura), la imposición contra su voluntad del hiyab, el consentimiento matrimonial bajado a los 13 años, la prohibición del derecho al aborto, anticonceptivos, o el divorcio. El patriarcalismo de Ajmadineyad es también notable: Su propuesta de reducir las horas de trabajo de las mujeres para que tengan más hijos, su justificación de las prohibiciones a las mujeres de asumir responsabilidades legales como “un signo de respeto” hacia ellas, la reintroducción de sangsar (lapidación de mujeres hasta la muerte) por el crimen de adulterio, su proyecto de ley del 2008 ante le parlamento de reducir los derechos de las mujeres en el matrimonio, ampliamente criticado por Shirin Ebadi (premio Nóbel de la Paz) son algunos ejemplos. No sorprende tampoco que el año pasado medios noticieros del gobierno (IRNA) acusaran a la hija de Ebadi de haberse convertido a la religión Bahá’í, apostasía a una religión prohibida y castigada con la pena de muerte.*  Las minorías étnicas barridas. Cuatro millones de iraníes obligados a exiliarse de la República Islámica (Nazanín Amarian) que Amarian ha llamado muy coherentemente una “república sin ciudadanos”.

Este año compitieron cuatro candidatos a la presidencia, entre ellos Musavi y Ajmadineyad, el representante del ala “pretoriana” (en la expresión de Nazanín Amariam) del islamismo, por la presidencia. ¿Piensan algunos que Mousavi cambió de bando? ¿Cuál bando? Ambos hombres, ambos chiitas, ambos creyentes y ambos escogidos por los ayatolas al dedazo a lo puro charro. Esas son las condiciones necesarias para el ejercicio del poder del presidente en Irán. Si no sos creyente, si pertenecés a otro partido político, si sos mujer, si pertenecés a una religión minoritaria, olvídate. No podés ejercer el poder. Si querés aún así ejercerlo, serás un agente del imperio o de Israel. O, de acuerdo a algunos, un venenoso. Hace unos años, ser tildado de comunista, te hacía agente de la la URSS y te ponía una soga al cuello. Ahora no hay URSS áunque Irán sigue teniendo uno de los mayores números de ejecuciones per capita (ocupa el puesto número doce en el mundo).

Interesante entonces que se critique a la izquierda por tener ojos occidentalistas que no ven el ardor revolucionario del campesinado. Pero la izquierda lo conoció y lo constituyó en los shoras que como campesinos,  obreros y  pobres ella misma creó. Como dije, los shoras fueron destruídos por los ayatolas (Zayad, The Iranian Revolution: Past, Present and Future).

Luchar contra el imperio, sí. ¿Sacrificar a un pueblo que tumbó al Shah y ha sido reprimido por un puñado de varones porque supuestamente están luchando contra el imperialismo? Es complicado. Pero no se debe barrer la historia del pueblo iraní contra el shah y los teócratas bajo la alfombra. Cada vez que se eleva ésta sobre Tangu, se ven los millares de revolucionarios sacrificados a la pequeño burguesía teocrática. Renegar de esa historia para defender la teocracia es un error fatal. Tildar la crítica a la teocracia de occidentalismo no se ajusta a los hechos o a la práctica revolucionaria.

* Muchas mujeres sabían cual era el propósito de la imposición del hiyab: Sellar su represión. Ellas se opusieron en el parlamento. Algunos en el Occidente solo han visto laicicismo y “devoción occidental al placer personal, y a la absorción por sí mismo… [gente que rechaza] las limitaciones islámicas y gubernamentales a la conducta personal” (paul Craig Roberts, CounterPunch). Esta posición del 2009 es similar a la que sostuvo Khomeini para justificar la introducción del hijab compulsorio. Mujeres que usaron el velo para rebelarse contra la compulsión de no usarlo bajo el Shah eran ahora forzadas a usarlo. En 1983, la ley castiga con 74 latigazos la violación del hiyab; en 1995, la ley impone prisión de 10 a 60 días para aquellas que se resisten públicamente a la “modestia” impuesta desde arriba. El apoyo que algunos autores occidentales le dan a estas medidas en base a su lucha “anti-imperialista” es la otra cara de la moneda de lo que ha sido llamado imperialismo postmoderno. El imperialismo postmoderno borra toda diferencia a favor de un occidentalismo solapado como la humanidad universal. En este ejemplo es la expresión de los racistas europeos de obligar a las mujeres europeas a no velarse (y no debemos olvidar que el Islam es tan europeo como el cristianismo y el judaísmo). La otra cara de este imperialismo es la afirmación de la diferencia hegemónica nacional y el silencio absoluto ante las diferencias concretas reprimidas por la imposicón interna de esa hegemonía. Es lo que yo llamo teoría de dependencia postmoderna globalizada: Afirmación del anti-imperio sin análisis de clase, género o minorías nacionales reprimidas alguno. En este ejemplo, se borra “el solapamiento del cuerpo de las mujeres, la segregación de género y la desigualdad” al hacerse estos elementos “integrales a la construcción del estado y su identidad: Islámico, anti-imperialista y anti-occidentalista” [Hamideh Sedghi, Women and Politics in Iran: Veiling, Unveiling, and Reveiling (Cambridge University Press. 2007), 201]. El libro de Sedghi es un excelente texto para mirar críticamente el etnocentrismo occidentalista por un lado y la ideología populista anti-imperial por el otro. Para una distinción útil entre el concepto crítico de pueblo y los populismo que borran las diferencias, ver el análisis que hace Enrique Dussel sobre el texto y el contexto de “pueblo” en el primer volumen de su Política de la liberación (Trotta, 2007), 439-464.

Elections and Democracy (or Power to the People)

Posted on June 20th, 2009, by Mario Saenz

The recent elections in Iran raise significant issues regarding the scope and means of democracy.

I think there are good reasons not to think that there is strong evidence that Ahmadinejad stole the elections. At any rate, right now there is more evidence that Bush stole the elections in 2000 than Ahmadinejad stole his own in 2009.

Nevertheless, those real or fraudulent results are wrongly used to lend legitimacy to attacks against labor leaders, labor organizers, and women’s rights activists. The theocracy in Iran wanted to use an electoral victory to strengthen its hand in those attacks, much in the same way as the protofascist regime we lived through in the U.S. during the Cheney-Bush years used its real or fraudulent electoral victories to justify attacks against the constitutional rights of citizens and residents. In fact, the last 8 years had moved us towards the establishment of a national security state and a permanent state of exception in which constitutionally protected rights are no longer operative for the long duration of the so-called war on terror.

It remains to be seen if the secular bourgeoisie in the U.S. will be able to dismantle the protofascist elements of governance they inherited from the fundamentalists in power until 2009. So far, however, they have only administered the mechanisms of the nation state including those created by their predecessors. We await with similar curiosity the unfolding of events in Iran: Will the secular bourgeoisie that is organizing itself around the figure of Mousavi succeed and be able to dismantle those repressive elements most closely associated with the theocracy?

We must also ask ourselves: Is freedom only for the bourgeoisie enough to establish democracy, that is, participation by the people in the governance of a nation? How far and wide and how effective is bourgeois right? The rights of workers to unionize have been under attack for years in both the U.S. and Iran. Also, in both the U.S. and Iran, significant sectors of the population are marginalized and persecuted. They are nothing to the ruling castes of each country: “Flotsam,” “Unhappy fans after a soccer match,” said Ahmadineyad after the election results were challenged in Iran. “Terrorists,” say the political pornographers in the U.S., to defend torture, disappearances (“extraordinary rendition”), and the persecution of people whose crime is no crime at all but simply their country of origin or, say, Muslim faith: the physician Rafil Dhafir in upstate New York and the university professor Sami Amin Al-Arian in Florida are only two examples of legal proceedings based on the political and religious filiation of the accused (for more information on the violation of the human and civil rights of Dhafir and Al-Arian go to and

It is good to dream for democracy abroad. It is better to realize democracy at home.

We Must Distinguish Between the Iranian People and Imperialist Manipulation

Posted on June 18th, 2009, by Mario Saenz

Many on the left seem uneasy regarding the situation in Iran. They look to the north and see the empire promoting change; they look to the east and see Ahmadinejad firing verbal missiles against the united states; ergo, Ahmadinejad is a revolutionary and must be defended.

However, neither the Iranian president is a revolutionary nor is the Islamic republic a republic:

Women are oppressed by a patriarchy that is founded on a fundamentalist interpretation of religion ( and one should not forget that the majority of religions lend themselves to the patriarchy). The organization of independent workers’ unions is repressed and that repression seeks legitimacy in “divine” mandates. Since when do socialists become silent in the face of such mandates against workers’ organizations, mandates that destroyed the workers’ shuras by 1983 with the charge of atheism and espionage for the USSR*? Are Mansoor Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, labor leaders imprisoned in Iran in April of this year with prison terms of three and five years respectively for the crime of labor organizing, agents of imperialism? And regarding the flogging in February of this year at Sanandaj prison (northwest Iran) of Sussan Razani and Shiva Kheirabadi for the crime of participating in the May Day March of 2008–Did the whip lay bare the skin of the Empire?

Ahmadinejad organizes a so-called “scientific” conference on the holocaust against the Jews and invites “luminaries” like David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and notorious racist against Blacks, Jews and Hispanics, and many leftists sit back, shut their mouths and close their eyes because, after all, Iran is opposed to Zionism: Very logical indeed for some to assert without using their brains that if someone is anti-semitic, he must therefore be anti-zionist, and that “the socialism of fools” is socialism after all.

Neither Mousavi nor Ahmadinejad respond to the class interests of workers or the egalitarian interests of women. However, the promotion of Ahmadinejad because he upsets united statians is irresponsible. The Iranian Revolution of ’79 was led by workers and stolen by the fundamentalists. It had an egalitarian spirit which has been forced to hide in the privacy of thoughts by a gender not allowed to express itself fully in public. Its solidarity with the Palestinians has mutated into the imbecilities of a petit-bourgeois who believes in the myths that circulate with “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and feels attraction for the barbarity of Holocaust revisionism regarding the crimes of the Nazis against the Jews.

It is surprising therefore that the left marginalizes feminist, anti-racist, and class analysis so that it can defend an Islamic regime because of its supposed anti-imperialism.

A left that does not ground its anti-imperialism on feminism, anti-racism, and the class interests of the exploited is neither anti-imperialist nor left.

* Nazanin Amirian, personal communication. See Amirian’s excellent website. The shuras were workers’ committees organized in the struggle against the Shah. The shuras became strike as well as neighborhood committees that helped in worker self-empowerement and were embryonic participatory-democratic mechanisms after the victory of the 1979 revolution. Neither the Islamists nor the Tudeh Party (pro Moscow) trusted the shuras. See Zayar’s Iran: Revolution in Resilience, with an Introduction by Alan Woods. This text argues for the anti-theocratic working-class origins of the 1979 revolution against the Shah.